I read a lot about health and longevity. Books. Blogs. Podcasts. Interviews. Seminars. I kinda had to. After my daughter was born I developed an autoimmune condition that took three years to diagnose. But even after a diagnosis, that wasn’t the root cause of my health problems. Conventional medicine didn’t have the answer (believe me I asked, and asked and asked). I would have so much rather have been  “normal,” and  “ordinary,” which means, from a health management perspective, I know very little about my body other than it is a vessel that resides beneath my head and helps me do what I want to do. It should stay out of my way and, like a good machine, perform as I expect when I expect it.

Wow. Did I need an attitude adjustment and major change in perspective.

The problem is, my experience with conventional health care providers, reinforces this perception of the body. It should do what we want, no matter how we treat it and what we feed it. If it doesn’t, then find a patch, a fix, slap it on and charge ahead.

When this model fell apart for me, I went through a period of anger, self-pity and then determination to find the root cause even if it meant turning my life into a continual health experiment and deeply committing to learning all about myself. The experiment continues (but that is another story…).

That’s the reason there’s so much “health stuff,” in our household. The more I learned about the body (talk about a complex system) and went right to the edge of what we know about it (for example, researchers believe we are in the early stages of truly understanding the gut micro biome), the more I was able to apply holistic management practices to my work, such as seeking the root cause of the problem, planning, monitoring, re-planning and applying all the tools available to us (including creativity) to solve a problem, instead of only technology (including drugs). Most importantly,having and taking ownership in a holistic context naturally leads us to think long-term. The pursuit of longevity and true health led me to the book Kale and Coffee.

Kale and Coffee

In the book Kale and Coffee by Kevin Gianni, I found true parallels between health and land management. So much that if you swapped out the words “health” and “body” for “land” and “ecosystem” you’d have a great land management book.

The parallel comes in our perspective. Kale and Coffee is about one “health renegade’s quest” for the secret to health and longevity. I highly recommend this book. It was one of the most entertaining and downright funny health books I’ve read. What a treat. If you don’t have time to read it, or want more, listen to this great interview with the author Kevin Gianni by Sean Croxton.

So let’s try something fun. Let’s take some of Kevin’s top tips for health and longevity and see how they can apply to both the human body/mind and the land/ecosystem.

5 ways to live a long, health life

  1. Think long-term: Kevin studied the Blue Zone cultures, which are the “most happy, long-lived” cultures and a big takeaway from one of these cultures was that when they make a decision, they do so on a 1,000 year scale. How will this decision affect people, the land in 1,000 years? Consider most health information out there. It is focused on 30 day, 7-day weight loss “cleanses” in order to look good in a cute dress (or pants) or to train for the next race. Short-term. Super short-term thinking. This gets us in trouble because we end up stressing our system, over-training, etc. due to our narrow focus and short-term thinking. Applying this thinking to a complex system like the human body or an ecosystem leads to unintended consequences (adrenal fatigue, anyone?). By trying to achieve health, we actually damage our long-term health and happiness. The same goes for the land. Land managers may focus on one species at the expense of the whole system, or agriculturalists may focus on one product or season and not consider the long-term impact of their actions.
  2. Eat real food (or give the body/land what it needs): From page 29 in Kale and Coffee: “One of the major dietary factors the Blue Zone cultures share is that they don’t eat excessively hybridized foods, genetically engineered foods, fast food, packaged foods, foods grown in mineral depleted soil, animals injected with antibiotics and hormones or any other category of food our modern world has created.” Give your body what it truly needs, remove what it doesn’t need and it will heal. Figuring out what those two factors are is where the experimentation (and for me a lot of lab tests) comes in, but it is worth it if health and longevity is the goal. In terms of the ecosystem, I’ve heard Allan Savory respond when people asked him about re-seeding areas (or other high input options to restore land) that if you get the grazing right, it will all come back on its own. It only requires good planning, management and patience.
  3.  Know yourself: From page 31 in Kale and Coffee: “One of the principles of longevity that Buettner and James Williams speak of is the long-established connection between culture, genes and food.” In other words, know what kinds of foods are right for you, don’t compare what works for you to what works for someone else. Those who have a deep connection to culture and place are healthy and happy–suggesting there is way more to the health equation than calories in, calories out. This one is hard for me. Figuring out your own system requires lots of listening, observation, listening, journaling–being a scientist, really. I tend to not be very patient. Working with complex systems requires humility and patience. I am grateful for the chance this journey has given me to develop those skills. I am also grateful for how it has informed me as a parent. My generation and my parent’s celebrated industrial foods, and in the process, let go of cultural wisdom around food and health. I am determined to re-learn the practices of growing and preparing food so that my daughter may know optimal health and longevity. In terms of managing an ecosystem, Allan Savory writes in the book Holistic Managementthat the best form of management is a “farmer’s footprints.” Knowing the land, monitoring it, observing it is critical to helping it flourish.
  4. Keep challenging the brain: Kevin describes a quote his 95-year-old grandfather taped to his computer monitor: “When you lose the mental game, you’ve lost the physical one.” He interpreted this as his grandfather’s reminder to constantly learn. Constantly challenge the mind. Stay sharp. Isn’t it inspiring to see 80 year-old yoga instructors and marathoners? How do they do it? I admire their drive to relentlessly pursue new challenges. Managing holistically constantly challenges our minds. The tool of human creativity must be applied, for example, each year during holistic financial planning to:
    1. brainstorm new or improved sources of income
    2. find ways to cut costs
    3. evaluate enterprises
    4. identify log jams in the overall operation
  5. Manage stress: To manage something, it is required to know where you are starting. What are the conditions you are working with? In health, it is called allostatic load. This refers to the level of wear and tear on the body. Everyone is has a different allostatic load. For example, someone who is a single parent, working two jobs, doing Crossfit a few times a week and sleeping very little will have a very high allostatic load. Thus, stress will impact him/her differently than say someone who has one job, no kids, financial security, gets plenty of sleep, etc. A health plan should consider the allostatic load of the individual. Some things that contribute to our allostatic load are out of our control. But we can control how we perceive events (as stressful or not) and how we respond to them. Kevin introduces the Emotional Freedom Technique of tapping, referencing the book The Tapping Solution. Try it. It is amazing. It can literally change the way you see things. And it doesn’t require a prescription, therapy or even a subscription. What is there to lose? The key to managing stress is getting enough sleep, eating right and incorporating a stress reduction technique like meditation, yoga, tapping, laughing, playing, etc. In land management, stress to plants comes from overgrazing. This is a function of time not animal numbers. It means that the plant does not have enough time to recover and regrow before being bitten again. Just as someone with a high allostatic load can easily over-train when exercising because the body does not have adequate recovery time, a plant that does not have time to regrow/recover from grazing becomes less healthy and has a shortened life. Most importantly, in stress management, or any management you have to do it everyday. This is called being consistent. How do you make sure you do something? Monitor it. Let’s explore this further.

Monitoring makes us better (and leads to longevity)

Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, explained on recent Sean Croxton podcast, that in order to change our habits we need to monitor the behavior we wish to promote. Want to move more? Count your steps with a FitBit. Want to lose weight? Weight yourself.  Want to improve ecosystem processes? Learn how to implement biological monitoring into your land management practices.


Take the next step toward land longevity

Ready to take the next step in improving your ability to manage complex systems like an ecosystem? Learn how to develop a long-term land plan and how to use ecological monitoring each year to move your land toward its full potential. On April 14 to 17, the Jefferson Center is offering a Savory Institute accredited course on Holistic Land Planning and Biological Monitoring at the Scott River Ranch in Etna, California.

Sign up to learn how to increase your land’s longevity.

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